Monday, November 30, 2009

About Dark World

I thought I should explain a bit about Dark World and why I'm doing it. The simple answer is to try something different.

I don't mess with critique groups anymore, for the simple reason that I don't find them useful. (Others do; this isn't a blanket condemnation.) So I was told that I should change a past tense verb to the past tense, and various people advised me to do things that are ungrammatical (many writers are apparently functionally illiterate) or wouldn't mean what I wanted to say. There was an extreme example where someone looked over two chapters of a story, was ABSOLUTELY SURE she knew what I was trying to do, and explained at great length how to do it properly. I replied that I wasn't trying to do that at all, and I even detailed how the story did work. Her response was that I should abandon my project and do the sort of story (a Narnia knock-off) that she envisioned.

So I gave up on crit groups. But a complaint I encountered a few times was that I never put forward a work in progress, only stories I had more or less finished and even polished. I don't like people looking over my shoulder while I work, and I have enough trouble with kibbitzers trying to second-guess my intentions in finished works; I don't want to think what they would do with something obviously unfinished, which they would surely consider more open to meddling.

My writing style would annoy such people anyway. Not only do I tend to edit as I go, so my rough drafts look polished, I also get back into the story in progress after a break by re-reading (and thus re-editing) the previous chapter or so.

Yet the idea of just sitting down and writing something without my usual procedures appealed to me. I didn't want to write a complete chapter every day, just two or three a week. And anyone who wants to see what my rough drafts look like may now do so.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dark World: To the Manor Borne

[Worse pun than usual in the title. Sorry.]

(The story begins here.)

“How do you intend to get to Dvorak Manor?” Darren asked. “The tree’s still blocking the road; it didn’t disappear with the woman and her pets.”

The doctor stirred uneasily at the reference. “The car’s fenders are reinforced, and its motor is powerful; I can probably push the tree enough out of the road to proceed.”

“Then why didn’t you do so before?”

“I didn’t say I could do so quickly and easily. It will take a minute or two, and we shall be sitting ducks until I get through.” Lassiter moaned faintly in the back seat, where Darren was stationed. Without looking back, the doctor said, “Keep an eye on him. I’d like to be underway before he regains consciousness, and if he shows signs of backsliding, you may have to convert him again.”

Silence held until the doctor pushed past the tree; then he asked quietly, “Is Lassiter still unconscious?”

“Yes. Why, do you want to rouse him with smelling salts and bludgeon him unconscious again?”

“Don’t be facetious; I only do that to werewolves. How hard did you hit him, anyway?”

“Not nearly that hard. I think he’s resumed his near-coma.”

“Very convenient.” The doctor paused briefly. “Darren, did you feel anything unusual when that woman looked at you?”

“You mean the pull? Of course. We all have a world of evil inside us; she was calling to that evil, trying to use its power to control us.”

“And Lassiter?”

“She already had an opening there: the power of the curse is gone, but not its effect. He now has a door open to a part of himself most of us keep sealed off, and the true monster within can surface quite easily.”

“I see.” Another pause followed. “You spoke before of another world touching ours. Do you mean Hell? Is she a demon?”

“Not Hell and not a demon. There is something demonic afoot, certainly; but I suspect she is still physically human, and the nature of that other world is as unknown to my theology as to your science.”

“And you felt something before she appeared?”

“I’m used to such evil, yes. I could feel it coming like a cold, rank draft from a swamp. That’s why I looked at Lassiter’s hair: I expected a breeze.”

“Well, give me plenty of warning next time.”

“You expect another attempt?”

“Don’t you?”

Darren didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. They drove on in silence to the fortress called Dvorak Manor.

[I'll resume reviews and such for a few days. The next installment of Dark World will be Dvorak Manor. First, however, I'll post a belated explanation about the story itself.]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dark World: Practical Theology

(The story begins here.)

At the gunshot, everyone froze. At first it had no other effect: no bullet hole appeared between the large, dark eyes. Then everything and everyone changed.

The eyes became tinged with fire, and Dr. Fleming could feel himself melting, burning before them. The werewolves leapt from the prominence, only to meet more effective fire on the way down: Darren’s shots sent them tumbling to the ground, where they writhed.

Dr. Fleming glanced at Darren and saw something somehow worse than the werewolves: Lassiter had gone from passive to aggressive, and while he wasn’t changing into a werewolf, he was changing into something. His face twisted with rage, his eyes seemed scarcely human, and if he didn’t quite achieve a bestial form, it wasn’t for want of desire or effort.

Darren’s attempt at an exorcism got nowhere, and he barely ducked a ferocious swipe. “Time for some practical theology,” he said as he dropped the man with an unexpected left. “Paul said to lay hands on no man suddenly, but I suppose a single fist is different.”

“Finally some theology I can believe in,” Dr. Fleming commented as he ran to join him. They would be safer if they were closer together. Then he paused. There was something different…

“They’re gone! The woman and the creatures and…and everything!”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Darren grunted as he lifted Lassiter’s feet and began dragging him to the car again.

“Have you encountered something like this before?”

“Not personally—not at this level. But I’ve heard of such things. It’s an irruption of evil.”

“I hope this annoys you, but I happen to know what ‘irruption’ means,” the doctor replied, taking the heavier end of their companion and helping Darren load him in the car.

“I’m sure it will annoy you to find it doesn’t annoy me a bit. This is an in-breaking of evil, as though another, darker world connected briefly with ours.”

“Then why didn’t it happen at the other spot? They did push the other tree down, didn’t they?” Dr. Fleming took a moment to handcuff Lassiter, and Darren nodded approval.

“Probably. Will you entertain an irrational, supernatural conjecture?”

“Of course. I asked you, didn’t I?”

“I suspect their time is limited. Lassiter’s encounters were apparently brief, for example, so perhaps they pushed over both trees, withdrew, and somehow waited for us. It may be that the first tree we found had just been pushed over, and they couldn’t return immediately.”

“Thank you. That was irrational and supernatural, and I feel sane by comparison.”

They were back in the car by now, and Darren asked the obvious question. “Now what?”

“We continue our journey to Dvorak Manor.”

Next installment: To the Manor Borne

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dark World: The Dark Call

(The story begins here.)

“Pushed over that tree? It doesn’t look weak enough!” Dr. Fleming said.

“I suspect the other one suffered the same fate,” Darren replied. “I’m used to such tricks in places where larger animals are available, but here the claw marks were at the right height for a man.”

A chill came over them suddenly, and Darren bolted to intercept Lassiter, who had left the car and was walking around in a daze. Darren felt almost the same: the morning light had dwindled unexpectedly to twilight, and he knew he had to get them all in the car and out of the area immediately.

“What’s going on?” Dr. Fleming muttered, and his voice was as close to panic as Darren had ever heard. Even during the werewolf attack he had been calmer than this. “How did it get dark so suddenly? There are no clouds, no eclipse…” His mind scrabbled for some foothold in the situation, and he remembered as a child being told that if he would look up a chimney during full daylight, he would be able to see the stars in a night sky. He had experimentally disproved the notion, to his regret. “Night has come. But how?”

“It’s the wind that bothers me,” Darren said, trying to steer Lassiter into the car.

“What wind?” the doctor asked. “I don’t feel anything.”

“The wind, Victor, that is ruffling Mr. Lassiter’s hair.”

It was true: Lassiter’s hair was blowing in a breeze that stirred nothing else.

Dr. Fleming glanced about, and his gaze fell on a prominence he had somehow not noticed before. On it stood a woman with long, raven hair. Could she be the one Lassiter had described? No; for how could anyone speak of this woman without mentioning her great, dark eyes? They were pools of night, enveloping and overwhelming all else, calling something forth from the depths of a soul the doctor denied he had. He stepped forward…

“Resist!” Darren’s voice commanded as his steel grip seized the doctor’s shoulder.

Dr. Fleming felt as though waking from a deep and terrible dream—but he was the sort who always wakened instantly and in full possession of his senses. He was also in possession of a gun, and it was aimed at the strange woman. “Who are you?”

She smiled. It was neither happy nor sad but beguiling, like a void that drew all into its emptiness. “Yo es li desir, li destine de tot homes, de tot animes.”

“You are not the desire or destiny of this man or this soul,” Darren called back.

She glanced at him but fixed her gaze on Lassiter. “Veni, accepta li don. Revela li potentie de—”

If Lassiter accepted the gift, the power he revealed was not good: he screamed and doubled over, clawing at himself. “I’m burning! Burning from inside!”

“The silver!” Dr. Fleming muttered. Darren was already half dragging the squirming man to the car, where he stuffed him in the back. The sight roused the doctor to a full awareness of his danger. He adjusted his aim. “Madame, I am scientifically trained to be a crack shot. Surrender, or I fire.”

She spread her arms, and a wolf-like creature emerged on either side. Still her gaze and her smile seemed to draw something within the doctor, and it was less because of his iron will than his strict training that he aimed between her eyes and pulled the trigger.

Next: Practical Theology

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dark World: If a Tree Falls

(The story begins here.)

“I believe he’s asleep,” Dr. Fleming said, indicating Mr. Lassiter, who was slumped beside him in the front seat of the sedan. It was a dreary morning for a drive.

“I’m not quite fresh myself,” Darren Christopher murmured. “We had a rough night making all the preparations, especially with unseen assassins supposedly breathing down our necks.”

“His exhaustion is still unusual,” the doctor replied. “I think the transformation wearies him, especially when it’s interrupted so rudely. He’s almost in a coma.”

“And you think it’s a good idea to move him?”

“My friend has better hospital facilities than I do. That’s his primary qualification just now—that and his paranoia. His place is a fortress, and it always helps to have a safe environment when dealing with the unknown. Unfortunately, it also means that he has limited his approaches. There are just two ways of getting there, and if we have been watched, we may be anticipated.”

“You expect an ambush?”

“I acknowledge an unavoidable risk. Keep your eyes open, use the clips with the silver bullets only when necessary, and remember that Lassiter may turn on us in more ways than one. Or do you think you cured him with your exorcism?”

“There’s always an element of choice: what I ran off, he may invite to return.”

“Annoyingly plausible—perhaps even true, if only psychologically.”

“You still think it could be some extreme form of psychosom—”

Dr. Fleming swore softly as he hit the brakes. He only just remembered to put his right arm out to prevent Lassiter from hitting the dash, which only worked because he was driving slowly to begin with. “Tree in the road,” he muttered as Lassiter plopped back against the seat, still unconscious.

“At least we are dealing with old-fashioned villains,” Darren said. “I thought that trick went out with the horse and buggy, at least in America.”

“It may not be a trick at all. There was a windstorm here last night, and I’ve seen some other old trees and limbs blown down. That’s why I was being careful. Speaking of which, keep me covered while I check on the tree.”

Darren rolled his window down and prepared either to poke his arm and head out or to open the door and move.

Dr. Fleming returned almost immediately. “False alarm: it was broken off, not sawed. But we’ll still need to detour.”

They drove on in silence for nearly an hour, and Darren noticed that Lassiter was stirring. He wasn’t surprised when they encountered a second tree across the second route. “I’ll check this one.”

He took scarcely longer than his friend had to investigate and return. The doctor had already turned the car as best he could when Darren trotted up.

“There’s evil at work here. Let’s leave.”

“They sawed it down?”

“Of course not. They pushed it over.”

Next installment: The Dark Call

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dark World: A Pound of Cure

(The story begins here.)

“What now?” Darren asked.

Dr. Fleming caught himself checking the windows and scowled. “We should keep an eye out, but right now I want to know what’s behind this transformation.” He turned to Lassiter. “You only change on the full moon?”

“Normally. The time at the gully or ravine was different.”

“Then we should have plenty of time to prepare. You aren’t allergic to silver, are you?”

“Not in this form.”

“Then I’m going to put you on a regimen of silver to see whether it will stop or weaken the transformation.”

“I wonder why silver?” Darren mused.

“Because it has proved effective. If you mean why silver works, I have no idea so far. It has a few unique properties; any one of them or a combination of them could explain the effect. It is an antiseptic—it seems to block infection, though no one knows why yet. That’s the most probable explanation. Silver is also a good conductor, though I’m not sure how that could play a part. I’d like to have you hooked up to a battery of instruments next time, Lassiter, but if silver can cure you, I’ll be content with that for the moment.”

Lassiter stared at the doctor. “What do you mean, ‘for the moment’?”

“If the transformation could be controlled, think how useful it could be. You were practically invulnerable.”

“So you’re like the guys who kidnapped me.”

“By no means. Invulnerability would have a number of everyday uses. Imagine a workforce practically immune to harm.”

“Or criminals,” Darren muttered.

“All progress carries a risk. In any case, I think I shall confer with some colleagues. There is a gentleman in upstate New York who could probably be of great assistance eventually, but I’d rather begin with someone a bit more traditional. I’ll make some preparations and get Mr. Lassiter started on a silver solution. Then we can make a trip to see an old friend of mine.”

Dr. Fleming went to a safe and removed a small quantity of silver, some of which he set aside for putting in a solution. “I would like to use pure silver, not a compound,” he explained. “A compound might not have the effect we need, but pure silver should. At the same time, I hope to spread it through his system as insurance.”

“You expect trouble, Doctor?” Lassiter asked.

“No, I merely prepare for it. Your mysterious woman apparently changed you off schedule before.”

“Because of the ravine—”

“We don’t know that.”

Darren eyed the second pile of silver suspiciously. “What about the extra silver?”

The doctor cocked an eyebrow and replied matter-of-factly, “That’s for the bullets.”

Next installment: If a Tree Falls

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mr. Wicker's Window: a Free Book review

[Sorry about the delay; it was a bad week.]

True to my threats, I'm reviewing an old book available free online in both text and audio book form.

Chris Mason has Problems. Not the typical, modern, angsty ones: his dad's away being naval, and his mom's apparently come down with a bad case of Incipient Death. So he does what any twelve-year-old would do: he goes out for a walk in his native Georgetown and gets talked into visiting an antiques store to ask the owner about giving a job to a friend.

Little does he know that the owner, Mr. Wicker, is a wizard recruiting for a job back in the 1790s. It's the sort of thing most kids would miss. Anyway, before even Chris can say, "Golly Moses!" (his typical exclamation), he's back in time and on the verge of a mission to help finance the fledgling American economy by doing something that would actually lead to a disastrous downturn in the prices of precious metals and gems and probably produce a global financial catastrophe. I hope no congresscreatures are reading this.

Anyway... The story features magic, sea adventure, near-fatal events, and some Amazingly Bad People for villains. It's a good yarn, but I'll mention a few issues:

1. Despite Mr. Wicker's claim that it's all really high tech, we're talking about magic here: magic words, sometimes with some material component, modifying reality. It's mostly about shape-changing, though there are some magic gadgets that are vaguely techy. Chris even brings a wooden statue to life, which is theologically problematic, but then, this isn't a Christian book.

2. The story goes downhill a bit toward the end, as though the author suddenly noticed a deadline. Specifically, the scene change between chapters 27 and 28 was so large and sudden that I actually thought for a moment that a chapter or two had disappeared. Similarly, there's a brief summary at the end of Chapter 31 that I would've fleshed out and made into a short chapter. And a duel introduced in Chapter 33 is never resolved, though I would like to have known who won.

3. A note about the audio book: while generally good, there are a few chapters that combine poor audio with a non-native speaker with a heavy accent rushing through the text. Under anything but optimal conditions (or with better equipment than my portable player), the result is hard to follow. You're better off reading the book there. The problem chapters are 2, 3, 18, and 19. The reader is intelligible in other chapters she reads, and I had no problem understanding these chapters when using my computer at home.

4. There is a fiddly point that can't be right: I'm certain that any professional sailor of the period could have recognized a slightly disguised ship he was already familiar with--the ship's lines, its movement, etc.

But these points aside, it is a good yarn, mostly on the right side of modern political correctness. There is violence, especially when the arch-villain, Claggett Chew, uses his whip, but it's well below Harry Potter level. The running time of the audio book is just under six hours, and I would suggest audio books as a good way to teach munchkins about the joys of being read to and of using their own imagination.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dark World: Werewolf at Large

(The story begins here.)

Lassiter covered his face with his hands. “The next thing I knew, it was morning. The ravine, the woman, Althaus and his goons—all were gone. I was crawling toward the gully when I came to my senses. It was the last place I should go. Was the woman good or evil? I didn’t know. About the ravine, I had no doubts.

“I returned to camp, but it was abandoned. Only the tent used by Althaus and his men remained. I ransacked it—then burned it. I scattered or hid the remains carefully: I wanted to make the area as hard to find as possible, though I knew someone would come looking. I kept some books, letters, and papers I found, and some money. I guess the others were too frightened to disturb the tent, though they took his car. I was no longer afraid of anything but the ravine—and myself.”

Dr. Fleming cleared his throat. “I assume this is a foolish question, but why didn’t you—or the wolf—simply kill them all? From what I saw of you, a tent shouldn’t have kept you outside.”

“The wolf seldom enters buildings,” Lassiter said, “even tents. If it had pursued someone who entered a tent, it would be another matter, but otherwise no. I doubt it was seriously hunting anyway after disposing of the Germans.

“I wasn’t sure where to go that morning. I considered Poland, but I thought France or Switzerland might be safer, and I didn’t know Polish anyway. The problem solved itself: a Sturmabteilung squad seized me before I had gone twenty miles.

“It was a rogue operation, I think. They arrested me for murdering Althaus, but they weren’t police and didn’t turn me over to the proper authorities. Instead, they chained me up for a few days in an old farmhouse to wait for someone important. He came at night, of course. The wrong night, as it turned out. A familiar feeling came over me, and I managed a glance out a window and saw the full moon.”

“The full moon?” Darren interrupted. “It wasn’t full that first night?”

“No,” Lassiter replied. “I don’t know how this works; there’s no manual that I’ve ever found for it. But the place where I saw the woman brought on the first transformation, and the full moon has done it since. I think there are different levels of lycanthropy: some can change practically at will, while others only do it under a full moon.

“Anyway, there was a full moon the night they gathered to interrogate me. I really don’t think any of them suspected I was a werewolf; they just thought I had stumbled upon some useful information. By a terrible irony, they had been babbling about harnessing ancient powers to produce the ultimate fighter. I remember snapping the chains and rushing them, rejoicing as the machine guns’ bullets pelted off me like so much chaff.

“In the morning, I found that they had left me a car and many useful items. I managed to reach Switzerland and get a flight to England. From there to America was easy enough. But I’ve used up the money I acquired, and jobs are still hard come by.”

“I can take care of that,” Dr. Fleming said. “Your case interests me, and I’ll furnish room and board in return for the right to study you.”

“Thank you. But there is more. I’m beginning to think that I’ve been traced here—to the US at least and probably to this city.”

“Why and by whom?”

“Doctor, I have no idea.”

I'm going to shift back to reviews, theological rants, and so forth, but I'll get in an installment or so of Dark World each week, all going well. The next chapter will be A Pound of Cure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dark World: Werewolf at Bay

(The story begins here.)

“There was a man named Althaus who was our liaison with the German government,” Lassiter continued. “I never understood his role; looking back, I no longer believe that he was a government man himself. He seemed more like an archeologist, always concerned with possible relics and with interviewing the locals. He acted a little less obnoxious than the others when I told my tale. He didn’t appear to believe me, but he didn’t laugh or call me insane, either. Afterward, when the others avoided me, he invited me to his tent for a talk—irrelevant matters, mostly. He kept coming back to my ancestry, especially after I admitted having German relatives. The curious thing was that he seemed to know it already, even though it shouldn’t have been in my work record. I think they preferred people with a Germanic background to those without; I’d beaten out a Frenchman for the surveying job, even though he’d been living in Germany since the War.

“But Althaus got out some wine—good stuff, too: the Germans generally have good beer but lousy wine—and we got chatty. He asked again about the ravine: could I find it again? I said it was large enough to be on our map. Then he showed me the map. Where the ravine had been, the map had only a gully.

“I offered to take him to the ravine. It was getting late, but there was time to take him to the edge of it, anyway. I certainly didn’t want to be there at sunset. He accepted my invitation and brought some of his men along. We reached the spot within the hour, and I headed into the ravine, though it was beginning to get dark, and the place did look different.

“There was no ravine.

“The gully from the map was there instead, taunting me. The hills were the same; I looked carefully at the one I had rolled down. At first I was too busy to notice the growing shadows. I did notice something else when I looked back.

“Althaus and his men had guns out. Was it a precaution against the approaching darkness? Althaus himself dispelled the idea. ‘Turn back, Herr Lassiter, and try the ravine again. Perhaps it will be there for you this time.’

“I protested that I had been telling the truth about it, that I wasn’t mad. He laughed. ‘I know, Herr Lassiter, and we wish to see it ourselves. Look again; can you not hear it calling to you, coming for you?’

“I did. There was something like a wind behind me, though I doubt anyone else could have felt it. It was the breeze from an opening door, and though I didn’t want to look back, I had no choice.

“The woman was behind me, still on the top of the hill, her hair blowing in a wind that existed for us alone. ‘Fugi, idiotes! Fugi del furie de—’

“She called them—or all of you—idiots and told you to flee,” Darren said. “‘Flee the fury of’ something. I wonder what? Werewolves?”

“I don't know,” Lassiter said. “Althaus called, ‘Fraulein! Come down to us now, in the name of—’

“Wrath shone from her face. ‘Li nómine del diábol!’ she cried. Their guns were aimed at her, but the unearthly gale swept through me, transforming me instantly, not in the minute or so it usually takes. I leapt at them, ignoring the bullets and screams that were equally futile, and entered my first night as a wolf.”

Next: Werewolf at Large

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dark World: Strange Encounters

(The story begins here.)

Lassiter stirred uneasily in his chair. “It should have been barely noon! How could we have lost so much time? I rushed down to warn the others, but they didn’t believe me until they had seen for themselves. That cost us precious minutes. And though it was childish and cowardly, we at once ran back into the ravine, hoping to get back, maybe to somehow regain a few hours and emerge in the daylight.

“As we neared the caves, a robed figure emerged and called, ‘Veni, filios mie! Veni con me e sia salve!’

“So, ‘Come, my sons! Come with me e be safe’?” Darren said. “Your Latin needs work.”

“His did. I am quoting exactly, believe it or not. Languages aren’t my specialty, but I learn them easily enough when I’m around them. I even know a little Latin. But anyway, the man in the robe was evidently some kind of priest, and some of the superstitious fools followed him without a thought. I never saw them again.

“The rest of us fled into the ravine, pursued by howling. Since I had paused neither to re-check the sun nor to follow the priest, I was in the lead. From time to time I heard something behind me, but I never looked back.

“Then I saw something that stopped me—atop the ravine was a woman in a robe of some kind, with long, flowing hair, raven black, and she called out, ‘Garda vos contra li lupes de asel!’

“‘Guard yourselves against the wolves of... Of what? It sounds almost like Provençal, though,” Darren ventured.

“Yes, but it was entirely the wrong part of Europe,” Lassiter replied. “I thought she might have been from some sort of Provençal enclave, though there was some German to her speech as well.”

“Then perhaps it wasn't ‘asel’ but ‘Esel,’” Dr. Fleming interjected. “That's German for ‘jackass.’”

Lassiter pointedly ignored the interruptions. “Anyway, I can’t justify it, but I ran to her, jumped up and swung myself over the edge of the ravine. Something bit me just as I started to roll clear, and I found a large wolf trying to chew my right leg off. We continued to roll, which brought us into broad daylight: it was somehow noon again. But the pain in my leg kept my attention on more pressing matters. I kicked the wolf in the face with my left heel. It drew back, stunned and blinking in the light, and I emptied my pistol into it. It stumbled backward into the ravine, more disoriented than hurt, I think, and I tumbled in the opposite direction.

“I was on a steep slope, and I began rolling down it. The strange woman reached for me, but she wasn’t quite close enough. I rolled and fell down the slope until I passed out.

“I awoke in camp. The others had heard the gunshots and run out; I wasn’t hard to find. They brought me back and wanted an explanation for their trouble. They didn’t want the one I had. They said I was mad, and I almost agreed. What happened next nearly pushed me over the edge.”

Next: Werewolf at Bay

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dark World: The Werewolf's Tale

[Hands up, everyone who thought I'd go for the obvious pun!]

(The story begins here.)

“Everyone was edgy,” Lassiter continued. “The area was odd—there were geomagnetic anomalies that made compasses useless, and some of the areas we visited did not welcome us. I thought the Ruritanians would meet us with force; a team working further south had already encountered volley after volley of crossbow fire from Grand Fenwick.”

“They are fond of quarrels,” Darren observed.

“From time to time a worker would disappear. Given the general tension, that was understandable, but sometimes they left all their possessions behind. We heard odd noises in the night—something like wolves, but, contrary to myth, wolves normally don’t attack a healthy young man, only children, the aged, and the sick, and seldom even them. Then one of our survey crews failed to report back one dark and stormy night.

“I was in the search party the next day—there was a new order against staying out past sunset. The missing survey team had known about it, so they must have been delayed somehow. They were just supposed to see whether there was an obvious route for the rails through all the rocks and hills. Why didn’t they at least fire a flare?

“The theory was that the others had run afoul of a ravine or some other unexpected feature of the terrain. The land was rocky, with numerous caves, and it was possible that their combined weight had collapsed a cave beneath into a pit. It was a reasonable explanation.

“I took a gun. We all did.

“We set out in the morning and followed the path they were to have taken. We soon found traces of them. Some of us had done some hunting and were reasonably good trackers, so following them wasn’t hard. They deviated a bit at one point—or so I thought; the compass was acting up—and entered a ravine. The sides and the growth at the top blotted out the sun for a few minutes; it was almost like being in a tunnel. Then we emerged and found ourselves turned around: the sun was in the wrong place, and we had to get our bearings. Though the ravine was reasonably straight, we had somehow gone east and come out facing west, for the morning sun was at our backs now, not in our faces.

“We soon found evidence of some kind of rout. The crew had scattered, leaving equipment here and there. The tracks were too confused to follow. Some had apparently sought shelter in some nearby caves; we weren’t sure what had become of the rest. But there was no one there now.

“It was as I inspected the tracks that I realized the light was bad. I supposed it was the brush or a cloud obscuring the sun. But then I ran up to the top of the rise to get a look at the area as a whole, and I happened to see the impossible.

“The sun was setting.”

Next: Strange encounters

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dark World: Interview with the Werewolf

(The story begins here.)

“My name is Henry Lassiter,” the former werewolf said, coughing. “What did you do to me, anyway?”

“You don’t remember?” Dr. Fleming asked.

“I only remember snatches of what the wolf does, like bits of a dream. I remember that your friend did something that infuriated me, and I was going to tear him apart. Then I felt as though I was burning up from the inside out, and I came to in that cell. I assume you believe now, doctor?”

“Let’s say that I am willing to investigate,” the doctor replied. “If you want belief in the supernatural, that’s Darren’s department. Darren Christopher, Mr. Lassiter, and vice versa. Darren is quite useful, if you can overlook his religious mania. He was the child of missionaries, and after they were massacred, he traveled around the world on his own until quite recently. He can do nearly anything, and his knowledge of languages, geography, and cultures is astonishing. He is also fearless and good in a fight. He saved me from a small mob a few months ago, and we’ve been at each other’s throats ever since.”

Lassiter pointedly ignored the introduction. “I have a medical problem, so I am seeking medical help. It’s a very difficult problem, though, so I looked for a doctor who is a genius not only in medicine but also in chemistry and physics. I am a man of science myself, doctor, being an engineer. I do not require the help of superstitious people.”

“I am a man of honor as well as science,” Dr. Fleming said, “and as such, I must point out that it was this superstitious barbarian who figured out how to subdue you. He stays, or you leave.”

“How did he do it? I remember breaking the gun—”

“And when you did so, you must have ingested a small quantity of the silver shot. I suspect that it impaired you enough that I was able to escape and hold you off. Darren ground up the remaining silver and blew it in your face as you inhaled. Then he appealed to your better nature with a rather expensive chair. I almost wish I could bring myself to bill him for it, but you seem a better choice.”

“If you had used the gun, he wouldn’t have needed the chair.”

“We can discuss that later,” Darren said. “Right now, I’d like to hear more about your hairy little hobby and when you took it up.”

“It took me up. I am an engineer, but times are tough, and I was in Europe, working as a surveyor. They are trying to bolster their economies through public works programs. The Germans are determined to unite Europe—the Germanic parts first, then the rest. They’re trying to bring the whole place into the twentieth century with a modern railway system. The French claim it’s a scheme to dominate Europe, but the Germans had that nonsense knocked out of them at Versailles. They know now that only a united Europe can stand, and they’re determined to make it happen.”

“Thank you for the Panglossian panegyric,” Dr. Fleming muttered. “So they recognized your efforts by making you a werewolf?”

“No. That was just the culmination of several disturbing incidents. It was a dark and stormy night…”

Next: The Werewolf's Tale
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